Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Are you a writer or a typist?




"That's not writing, that's typing." Truman Capote dismissing Jack Kerouac's work






I have had asthma attacks all my life. I've them it since I was a kid only we called them bronchospasms back then because that's what the doctor said I was having and indeed bronchoconstriction is one of the most noticeable symptoms of asthma. It runs in the family but I've always suffered the worst. When I was young and didn't really understand the condition I used to have attacks constantly. My dad tried to make a list of what caused the attacks but it seemed like everything I did could bring on an attacks: laughing, crying, coming in out of the cold, going out into the cold, running, lying down… he gave up eventually.

Over the years I got better at managing my breathing. I started to realise that, if I didn’t panic, then even without medication I could control an attack. That said to this day I carry an inhaler with me at all times. Most of the time I don't need it. Most of the time simply knowing it's there prevents an attack but there is nothing worse than being caught out without it and finding you can't breathe.

(Note to new readers: He does this, don't fret about it. None of this has anything to do with writing but he will get his act together in a couple of paragraphs).

A wee while ago I was reading one of the what feels like hundreds of blogs I check daily when I chanced upon one by a young lady called Rebecca talking about what she referred to as "poetry attacks" – lovely expression. What she was on about, and I've been there, is being caught outside somewhere when your head starts to fill up with words and ideas and your beloved computer is five miles down the road hibernating or whatever computers do when you're not there. What can you do before, to use another of Rebecca's wonderful expressions, "complete total poetic meltdown" occurs?

There was a time – I know it's difficult for some people to imagine – when there were no computers, or, if there were any, they took up entire rooms and all they were useful for was calculating π to umpteen-thousand decimal places. I know – I was there.

And during that time there was a simple and elegant solution we writers used to use – a notebook. I have a collection in my office dating back 30 years, tatty things full of scribbles and unfinished poems and things I can't quite read any more.

My advice to Rebecca was: "Buy one. A good one. Take your time selecting it. Pick a nice small one and, if these things matter to you as much as me, a good pen, put them in your handbag or your coat pocket and never leave home without them."

What I'm talking about here is note-writing, getting the ideas out of your head to make room for new ones. And I'm very serious when I put it that way. My parents both told me that you can't do two things at the same time and, awkward wee bugger that I was, I'd go away and prove them wrong, at which point they would qualify their statement (i.e. move the goalposts): "What we meant was you can't do two things properly at the same time." Now that is true. If you're struggling to remember things it's much harder to think up new things. Get them out of your head as quickly as possible.

Poetry is incurable I'm afraid. Some people grow out of it but I was never one of them I'm afraid. I tried using a palmtop – I have an old Hewlett Packard HP620Lx (with a full keyboard) – but it's died a death besides it's not the kind of thing you can stick in your back pocket. Great for public transport mind. It rather depresses me that current models shy away from having a separate keyboard.

Of course, all of this started me thinking about writing in general.

I watched a repeat of Star Trek Deep Space Nine a few weeks ago (an episode called The Muse) where the character of Jake Sisko, an aspiring writer at this point in the series, meets his muse – literally - in the form of an alien energy-sucking vampire called Onaya who is capable of unlocking the potential of artists; the process has a rider though, it kills them although they achieve immortality through their art. One detail that struck me about the episode is that when Jake starts writing under her influence – on paper and with a fountain pen – his writing is actually quite beautiful and, for someone who spends all their time working on those daft computer pads they carry round all the time, this seemed unlikely.

Over the years my handwriting had disintegrated to the point I decided I'd have to do something about it. I bought a selection of fountain pens (mainly Osmiroids but I did have a matt black Sheaffer) and started to relearn how to write. In time my gothic hand got quite good but fast it was not. So, to speed up the process I began writing using a ruler (a very very expensive ruler) to keep the lines straight. Eventually I dispensed with the fountain pens – but not the ruler – and developed a modified gothic style. Without my ruler (actually now I have three of them) I'm afraid my writing is still untidy. Nowhere near as illegible a Beckett's but still pretty awful. Most of the time anyway, I can read it.

I imagine there are quite a few younger writers out there who have never thought to try and write longhand. For starters there's the matter of transcribing what you've written onto the PC. I'm sure it seems like a non-starter. I expect more poets might be inclined to pick up a pad and scribble away on it. There's not much work in transcribing a poem.

Louis de Bernières (author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin) has said, "I still believe that you can't write poems on computer; you must write poems longhand. There's something antithetical to the poetic spirit about computers." I'm not sure that I agree. Strangely enough the last batch of poems I've written have all be straight onto the computer – usually the laptop I keep in the living room – but this is a new thing for me.

I've never romanticised computers. They've never been more than a tool. Perhaps that is what de Bernières is on about here. I have an emotional attachment to many of my pens, especially my dad's Parker, but I've never wept buckets when I've had to upgrade my PC.

Taking into account what Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Strand has to say I think I might get it though:

Well, I think, when I write, I try to resist reading my poems as long as possible, and type seems too final. While I'm writing longhand, I'm under the illusion that I'm hearing the poem. Type seems almost like print, and you're fooled into thinking – or I'm often fooled into thinking – a poem is done before it's actually done, if I see it in print.


Poems are one thing but what about writing an entire novel by hand?

Joyce Carol Oates deliberately practiced as a college student by writing a novel in longhand, then turning the pages over, writing another novel on the flipside. Both novels were then tossed in the trash. Since high school she began "consciously training myself by writing novel after novel and always throwing them out when I completed them" – Women writers at work: The Paris Review interviews

She's not the only novelist to work longhand.

Novelist Peter Quinn, writes all of his books in longhand, on yellow legal pads. The murder mystery-writing nun Sister Carol Anne O'Marie writes long-hand in a green Naugahyde easy chair across the bay from San Francisco. Neil Simon wrote his plays longhand using a fountain pen and extra long legal pads, all of which he brought back from England. He said he simply never got on with typewriters, word processors, PCs; he felt technology hindered the creative aspect of writing. Mary Gordon does her writing longhand with a vintage Waterman pen. Neal Stephenson said: "The manuscript of The Baroque Cycle was written by hand on 100% cotton paper using three different fountain pens: a Waterman Gentleman, a Rotring, and a Jorg Hysek."


In his article, How I Write and Authors who Handwrite Novels, author Mike Shea has this to say about Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and Neverwhere, writes his first drafts in longhand:

I'm writing my novel with two different fountain pens (a Lamy 2000, and a regular Lamy) filled with two different coloured inks (a greenish one and a reddish one), and I'm alternating pens each day, which means I can see at a glance how much writing I've actually done that day, or that week. More than five pages in the same colour of ink must have been a good day. The Lamy 2000 days are my favourites because the regular Lamy, although a good pen for signing in, is less happy writing a novel, and handwriting like mine needs all the help it can get.

One reason I like writing by hand is it slows me down a little, but it also forces me to keep going: I'm never going to spend half a day noodling with a sentence to try and get it just right, if I'm using a pen. I'll do all that when I start typing.


Joe Haldeman uses a fountain pen, as does Stephen King (a Waterman cartridge fountain pen). Can we see a theme developing here?

Novelist Elizabeth Bear has this to say:

I come by the fountain pen thing genetically. My mother's been using fountain pens all my life, and I started with them in high school. And they are, unmistakably, a superior creature. I spend hours every day writing – long-hand and keyboard – and at one point I did nearly all of my fiction writing and poetry longhand. Back in the dim mists of history, lo, when I didn't even own a word processor. – They Must Need Bears


Novelist Anita Nair has similar thoughts:


It's not that I can't write straightaway on the computer, but I like going through the ritual of writing. The pen and paper gives you a time lag to deliberate. Writing is a sensual experience and the sensuality is lost on the machine. It may be a sentimental notion but writing becomes less romantic and more of a chore. – The Hindu

One student writer reported: 'Maybe I'm too far away with the computer. I mean the screen is there, and I'm here. With a pencil and paper I'm touching the words. I know Nabokov was fond of pencils, and I have used them, but I much prefer a good pen. I wrote about half of my last novel using the Cross fountain pen that my daughter bought me. It uses non-standard cartridges so I tend to run out and I have to go into Glasgow town centre to buy more but it does have a lovely feel to it. I would write a block, usually no more than a couple of pages, and then type it up – editing as I went as is my wont – and then I'd usually keep on writing on the PC until I dried up. And I just kept on going that way till the book was finished. Pocket notebooks are for emergencies only. I don't much care what I use when I'm writing in them.

Here's a dour wee poem I wrote a while back about trying to write with a pencil:

ERASED

Dead words on a page
sitting side by side by side
black and twisted
the tombs of truths.

You can rub them out.
They know nothing.

There's no sense in death
precious little in living.
Meaning glimmers
for an instant

as it falls into
its shallow grave.


24 February 2007


I liked the idea of the indent the pencil makes in the paper being like a shallow grave. I have to say I was feeling quite negative about the whole writing process at this time. Interestingly I think I wrote it straight onto my PC.

There are other arguments of course for writing longhand. Consider this from the Washington Post talking about the fact that writing is losing ground to typing:

The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better…

In one of the studies, Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George's County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills.


Things are changing. William G. Sharp and David S. Hargrove from the Department of Psychology at The University of Mississippi, hypothesised that writing longhand and typing about a stressful experience were equivalent in terms of emotional arousal and essay content. This is what they discovered:

168 college students were randomly assigned to describe either a neutral or emotional topic by typing or writing longhand, in a 2×2 factorial design. Compared with students in the neutral conditions, students instructed to describe an emotional topic reported greater negative affect following the writing task and produced essays that contained significantly more personal and psychological content. Consistent with the hypothesis, participants writing longhand and typing were equivalent in the direction and degree of this difference. These findings suggest that at least a portion of the population (i.e. college students) is now comfortable and/or adept in expressing themselves emotionally on a computer. – Emotional expression and modality: an analysis of affective arousal and linguistic output in a computer vs. paper paradigm


The arguments for using pens, as stated by King and others, tend to focus on slowing down the writing process. Since I actually write quite slowly anyway I can't really comment on this. I think the main reason for this is my gestation period is so long. I think about what I'm going to write. And then I think about it some more. Then a bit more. And then I sit down and write and it doesn't really matter where or what with. I don't know. But that's just me.

There's an interesting post, The Surprising Process of Writing, which, although it deals with school papers makes some valid points about how the quality of typed essays is improving:

With substantial practice at the keyboard, I do believe that students are can become more “fluent” at writing and produce a product as creative as that produced by handwriting. In fact, studies often show that students do as well on a computer than they do handwriting compositions.


I know, I know, progress marches on but I do think that the tactile quality of writing is something every writer should experience. There is a fascinating article by Dr Daniel Chandler called The Phenomenology of Writing by Hand which I would recommend you have a look at when you have a quiet moment but I'd like to highlight this quote from Wendell Berry:

I am not going to use a computer because I don't want to deny myself the pleasure of bodily involvement in my work. In using computers writers are flirting with a radical separation of mind and body, the elimination of the work of the body from the work of the mind. The text on the computer screen, and the computer printout too, has a sterile, untouched, factory made look... The body does not do work like that. The body characterizes everything it touches. What it makes it traces over with the marks of its pulses and breathings, its excitements, hesitations, flaws and mistakes... And to those of us who love and honour the life of the body in this world, these marks are precious things, necessities of life.


The article mentions that it was very important for Rilke to send a copy of the finished poem in his beautiful hand to somebody, because that was the poem, not the printed imitation. I've always thought that was something writing had over art, that we could give away our work and still retain it. I'm not so sure now.

31 comments:

McGuire said...

Yet again another highly relevant topic. Writing Versus Typing.

The Capote quote always made me nervous, as though he was saying, all words that are typed, are devoid of skill and literary merit.

He might well be write. Afterall, I am a mere typer of the illiterati, which has a memebership of several million. Do I really have the deluded audacity to call my 'typing' 'writing' let along, 'art'?

I do write with a pen, but not as much as I used too, and very little creatively. Oddly enough, I was talking to a friend about this very topic recently, and my general conclusion was that I write better with the computer, so much so, that when I write a poem with a pen, I feel that my thought processes are different, that they don't come out quite as quickly or organic as they do with a keyboard.

Obvious reasons for this, a keyboard allows you to speed write all sorts of drivel at autobahn speeds (hence why spelling and grammar, have almost been murdered out of the mind of modern youth).

There is a strange kind of cognitive dissonance for a the younger generations. Typing on computer is more common than writing with a been, so much so that, typing has made writing 'obsolete' (at least for the masses). Most people now type/write better on computer than they ever could with a pen. In fact, if they sat down to write with a pen, their brain may well stall, and wonder, what is this extra effort you are putting me under? I can the easy write.

Interesting post as ever. Will reread. Hope the long reply isn't too annoying.

Rachel Fox said...

'Poetry attacks' is a great addition, you're right (and well done that girl). I wish I'd known to call them that years ago...
As for writing and typing...we spend so long at computers these days that I find doing some handwriting a real pleasure...no matter what kind of mess I make (or what kind of pen or pencil I use).

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Great piece as always, Jim.

I 'write' straight to computer most of the time, simply because it's quicker. When I'm writing long-hand - and I do do that when I'm away from the PC, and have a notebook especially for it - my thoughts and ideas sometimes run faster than my fingers can catch up with. Plus, what with not having had to write a longhand essay for some 15 years now, my hand tends to cramp up.

On the other hand, having that longer gap between thought and written word means that I do think a bit more. And there's also something very appealing to me about a poem on the page with all its revisions visible in a way that just doesn't happen on the screen.

I tend to use gel pens to write fiction and poetry with, when I do write long-hand - I like the flow of ink. I have a Parker fountain pen that I love very much and would happily use, but I bent the nib some years ago and never got round to getting it replaced (procrastination strikes again). I also use pencil a lot - it feels softer on the page somehow, but no less permanent for me than ink.

Ken Armstrong said...

I like to resort to an old parker fountain pen when the words are tight. Being left-handed, I tend to smudge over what I have just written and thus end up with a long blue ink stain along the outside of my little finger.

My handwriting - which is produced quite fast - is also completely indicipherable to 98% of the literate population.

All this inky stuff seemed *so* uncool and then the film 'Shakepeare in Love' showed old Will fairly splashing the ink around in enviable creative frenzy and that, I think, helped to sex the ink thing up a bit again.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the feedback, McGuire and I have no problem with long responses. I like it when my readers are sufficiently motivated to go off on one.

Rachel, yes "poetry attacks" is a great one. It makes me sometimes wonder if everything I've ever thought hasn't been thought by someone else first. So, what's the point?

Catherine, you can buy Parker nibs on the Internet: see the Penbox site.

And Ken, as I was just saying to Rachel, there's no point thinking up something clever because some bugger will've got there before you. I was thinking about you associating sex and ink so I looked up Ink Fetish and wound up here.

Rachel Fox said...

The point? It's better than just giving up and not thinking at all...isn't it?

Jim Murdoch said...

You know sometimes Rachel that sounds so nice but as you know Beckett's one of my heroes and so I keep in mind the end of The Unnameable: "I can't go on. I'll go on."

Art Durkee said...

Cartridge fountain pens are unbeatable. I used Sheaffers for years, going through several of them over time. I still a box of pens, nibs, and ink cartridges. When I'm traveling, I still use these tools. It's not handy to pull out and boot the laptop in the middle of nowhere; and that can take too long. I almost always have a notebook and pen handy.

My current favorite pens are Japanese brush calligraphy pens that are cartridge pens like my old cartridge fountain pens. I often carry one of these, and thus sometimes when I'm out and about, I create a small drawing to go with a haiku. One notebook in particular (a handmade blank book made by my sister, who makes lovely notebooks) is full of haiga, little pictures with words, and what Paul Reps once called Zen telegrams. Words and brushstrokes combine, like illustrated haiku (haiga are haiku plus paintings; although there is a modern movement to do haiga with photos).

When I am off in the woods camping for a week, I tend to write in a notebook, often several times a day. Poems often come to me in the woods.

When I am revising, I always type my poems into the laptop and then work on them as .txt files. (Usually in Word.) Revision doing edits on a computer is SO much easier and smoother than the old paper revision process; and less wasteful, too.

Other times, when poems come to me, I'm at home, and the computer is always on. So I jsut sit down and write. I don't see the difference. I get the tactility of handwriting when I do that, and I get the speed and ease of typing when I do that. Both have their advantages.

My point is that it doesn't at all have to be an either/or choice. It probably never really is, even though many writers have habits that would make it appear that way. Especially nowadays. Both computers and handwritten pages, then, are still useful, and combine to create a larger single domain of getting the words down however you can.

"Poetry attack" is a good phrase, but it should also be mentioned that it's not unusual. In fact, that's how I always write poetry. My discipline is not to write a poem a day (usually crap, anyway), or to sit down and write something every day (though I do write something every day, just not always poems), but to be prepared. Preparedness means listening constantly for the poem to strike, and being prepared means always having materials at hand (notebook and pen, or whatever), and lastly it means being willing to drop everything to get the poem down. I almost never sit down intending to write a poem; I almost always wait for a poem to come to me, and so I must be ready to write anytime, anywhere. This is my usual practice, so the "poetry attack" is actually nothing alien or new to me; it's completely ordinary. I have been known to pull over to the roadside to write a poem down. I have known to write a haiku on a napkin or a shopping bag. If I'm out of notebooks at the moment, I have been known to buy a cheap one at a store, if I feel a poem coming on. I have also been known to jot an idea down to be worked out later on the back of a concert ticket or receipt if nothing else is available. I'll even borrow a pen if I don't have one.

It's all about being prepared, and being willing to drop everything to get it down, in the moment.

Susan Sonnen said...

I'm sure that it will come as no surprise to you that I do not have the patience to write my poetry and stories out in longhand. And I write short verse and flash fiction! But I understand your love of fountain pens and the feel of the pencil on paper, as my notes must be handwritten! Odd duck, I know.

Thank you for sharing the 'poetry attacks' story with us. :)

McGuire said...

Ha, upon re-reading my reponse, I noticed (as ever) that it was littered with errors and dyslexic mishaps.

I am a prime example, if one was ever needed, of bad typers bringing down the standard of the written word.

It appears, like so many minds these attention deficit days, I need to be sent to the 'concentration camp'.

. said...

Jim,

My response to your blog is in my blog. You got me warmed up for the day.

Thnx, GO

Jim Murdoch said...

Art, I think what it is with me is that I've done them all. I've written with various pens and pencils, a couple of manual typewriters, an electric typewriter and lots of different computers and applications. I've heard that some people use Word in full screen mode because they find all the icons distracting and they want to get back to the feeling of a blank sheet of paper. That’s never bothered me. I set the line width to 1.5 and the justification to full and I'm off. But I really can, and do, write anywhere and on anything. I don't have a lucky pen or anything daft like that. But you're right, the Scouts' motto should apply just as well to writers: "Be prepared."

McGuire, yes, I was going to pass comment on that. That's one thing you never get with a pen and paper. You just can't read what you've written.

Gabe, I've read your post – interesting as always – and left feedback.

Susan, there are no rights and wrongs to all of this. That is the beauty of writing that there are no rules and I get frustrated with people who try and impose them on others. Suggestions are another thing completely and I think a lot of kids who've really only worked on a PC might learn something from the experience of literally putting pen to paper. Artists vary what materials they us so why not us, eh?

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Typewriting! It's been a long while since I did that - I had a typewriter as a kid, and then used one in my late teens as well that someone had left in our 6th-form study. Annoyed the heck out of some of the others students, but a lot of us had fun creating collaborative stories on it.
There's something very real about typing on an actual typewriter and seeing the words looking 'all proper like' on the page.

Jim Murdoch said...

Catherine, when I had my Atari-ST it used to have a programme that made your keys sound like an old manual typewriter. It even tinged when you got to the end of a line. I actually loved my electric typewriter; it really hammered those letters home.

Art Durkee said...

I guess it comes down to that action-based definition of being a writer that has always made sense to me: "A writer is someone who writes." The tools almost don't matter, but a real writer is someone who MUST write, who will drop other things in order to write. A non-writer who postures as a writer will write ABOUT writing, or talk about it, but rarely actually do it. I think it would be fair to call such a posturer a typist.

Capote could be a real snarky jerk, though. I seem to recall that his comment was a jab at Gore Vidal; they were rivals, and I think they both used that insult on each other's work. I'd have to look it up, though.

I get what the distinction is between writing and typing, but it's not really about the tools, it's about the intention of the work.

I love the tools, but I've always loved the tools. I've been a professional typesetter, a typographer, designer, etc. I have a small collection of antique typewriters, most of which still work, which I love. I also have the SCM manual typewriter my parents gave me in my teens, on which I taught myself to type, and on which my first chapbook of bad teenage poems was typed out. I've been a professional music copyist and calligrapher. Hence my love of fine pens and papers. I love Rapidograph technical pens, too. I have quite a collection of favorite pens. But it's as others have said in your comments here: I'm not attached to any particular writing implement as necessary to writing. They're all works of wonder in their beautiful worksmanship and engineering, and they give me joy as objects of art. But their purpose is to be used, and I do so. My laptop also gives me pleasure to write on, because I can take it anywhere in the house, sit down and write, and not lose my focus, or have to worry about getting ink on the sofa. It's just another beautiful tool.

"A writer is someone who writes."

BTW, I am indeed geeky enough about all this to admit that one of my favorite writers in historian of technology and engineer Henry Petroski. He wrote an entire book about the history of the bookshelf. and the shape and form of the book. He wrote a 200+ page book on "The Pencil." If you guys are really hardcore into appreciating the tools, I recommend Petroski's books to you.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

It was not possible for me to compose on a typewriter. I just made too many typos. It interfered with the composition process. So I would write everything out first with pen or pencil, whether that was school project, poem, story.

When in my last year of college a friend gave me his outdated computer I was able to make revisions quickly and easily -- never had that been possible! I produced my first multi-draft papers for class and, boy, were they better.

No longer did I have to fear typing. I keep my diary handwritten in a notebook. I have poetry notebooks (altho I rarely carry them around). And waiting while the computer boots up (a much more current computer!) makes me impatient but otherwise I love writing on the computer. Yes, print makes the poem looks more official, but to me that's a help. Because the weak parts stand out better.

Jim Murdoch said...

I really am with you. I have a drawer full of pens but I'm a practical man. I do not have the time I once had and frittered away. If I dropped dead tomorrow I would not be displeased with my output although I could have done a lot more to actually promote myself. I am starting to realise that a writer is a way of life. I think I've always known that but tried to be both and that doesn't really work. Now writing is the focus of my life and I intend to keep it that way. I don't write as much fiction as I'd like at the moment but the past nine months have all been about promotion and that will have to continue for a while. Once that quietens down I'll get back into my book. I've always worked in stops and starts anyway. As for the Petroski, I think I'll pass.

Jim Murdoch said...

You have reminded me of something, Glenn, and that is fonts. Every poem I write gets printed out as a hard copy and goes into a whopping great big folder but I always take a bit of time to pick the right font for the poem. It's a thing of mine.

Art Durkee said...

Ah, fonts . . . .

That's another favorite topic of mine. I've designed about two dozen typefaces, in several families. It's another bit of geeky professionalism in which I have engaged. (A few free fonts are available on my website, too.)

I usually don't worry about fonts until I'm getting ready to design something, or pull it together. Then fonts become essential. It's all part of the package, and it's like the pens, another important tool in the service of the writing.

BillyWarhol said...

i have to write my points ie thoughts + ideas down*

i'm old skool i guess*

+ especially if their good + i'm sleeping cuz in the morning they are gone!!

i used to love fountain pens way back when + nice strathmore linen paper*

now i can barely find a ballpoint pen that isn't super fine - i lucked out + found a uniball vision elite that gives a nice thick black stroke*

;))

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, Billy, I go through phases with pens. Certainly for the bus a fine tip is best but Berol brought out an extra-thick roller ball a few years back that I just fell in love with until something else caught my eye; faithful I am not, I'm afraid, and if I went through women the way I've gone through pens in my life, well I'd be very tired put it that way.

Sorlil said...

Interesting post, I never go anywhere without a pen and pad but wouldn't dream of trying to turn my notes into a poem using longhand (unless husband is hogging the computer that is!).

I think it's because of the way I write. I have to pretty much perfect a line before I can move onto the next one which, with pen and paper, means endless crossing out and having to rewrite the poem up to the working point in order to move on. It's so much easier (and environmentally friendly!) working on the computer, and I don't feel at all detatched from the words!

Terry said...

I thought about writing my comment out longhand first and transcribing it to this little submission box, then reality hit. I'm one of those incredibly slow inkers, but I type 60-something words per minute. When I write by hand, my brain goes racing ahead and I lose both the new idea and the one I was trying to write down.

On the other hand, I do like to map out ideas for writing by hand. I haven't found a way I like to do that on the computer . . . maybe that's a testimony to not being especially creative at the keyboard.

I read very slowly too, which is odd because I'm almost finished with a graduate degree in English, and that requires a ton of reading. I tend to chew on the words and soak in all the nuances (or get frustrated when the nuances aren't there), and really don't feel I get enough out of it if I try to read faster. I say all of that as a form of apology for not commenting more here on your blog, because I honestly don't always have time enough to read your wonderful, and often quite long, posts. When I do take the time, I am always glad; I'll have to make the time more often.

One thing I found really interesting in your post is the offhand way you name drop pen brands. Very impressive. If I were to start writing things out by hand, what pen would you recommend for a beginner such as myself?

Beth said...

What a good post (and comments!) on a topic dear to my heart. I enjoyed your musings, Jim. For me, the computer has been the tool that's allowed me to write with flow and energy. I hated typewriters, and even though I was at one time a professional calligrapher it never worked very well to write seriously by longhand - too slow, too difficult to revise and edit on the fly. Like you, I don't romanticize the computer at all, but I do love my pens, and keep a longhand notebook for ideas, notes, and the occasional longer piece written away from my desk. (BTW, that Beckett quote is a favorite of mine too.)

Jim Murdoch said...

Sorlil, nice to see another Scot making comment. My wife and I shared a PC for about a fortnight and that was eleven years ago. We now own two PCs and two laptops. My wife can't write using pen and paper – she never got past a page. The PC really released her creative potential.

Terry there is no way I can recommend a pen to you. A pen is like a set of darts. You need to feel the thing in your hand and work with it. It's a very personal thing. When I bought my first, and only, set of darts I went to a specialist darts shop in Edinburgh when you could build a dart to suit yourself, pick a tip, a shaft and a flight and then have a go. It's the same with a pen. What works for me wouldn't necessarily suit you. I love the Cross pen my daughter bought me – it's sleek and silver – but I also love my stubby, matt-black Schaeffer with the italic nib and the brown ink.

Beth, I see you're a lot like my wife and, yes, it has been a most interesting set of comments. It always surprises me which posts get people going. And delights me too if I'm honest.

Anonymous said...

The difference in a writer and an author is a friend in the publishing business.

A writer friend told me that my stuff would sell, "sooner than later," because "it's something you can read on an airplane." I wonder if he meant that if the plane crashed you won't have missed much.

WoFat

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the comment, WoFat. I suppose if your friend had said your book was something you could read on a beach you'd expect a tidal wave to curtail your reading. I doubt he was trying to be nasty – probably the very opposite – but it is amazing how thoughtless people can be.

Art Durkee said...

One last thought about typing:

I can type around 60 or 70 wpm, when I'm at white heat. That's just years of practice, not native talent. The most common typos or mistakes that I make are to transpose consecutive lettres, ahem, or drop a word in the middle of a phrase.

Which begs the question: Typing that fast, with so many words going by, do I really have that much to say in that short a time? The answer is: rarely.

Sometimes it's good to slow down and take one's time, just in general, and it's nice to have writing technologies that allow us to do that.

Jim Murdoch said...

That's a pretty decent last word. Well said, Art.

Christian said...

Very interesting post. Although my choice is seldom a conscious one, I tend to write some things and type others. Writing forces me to slow down—this is often a good thing—and it also shows me how (rather than what) I'm thinking about something. My typing is much faster, but I find myself editing while composing more than I would if I were writing. The great advantage of seamlessly employing a virtual dictionary/thesaurus is often undermined by the break in the action, a break that may have dumped another thought into oblivion in the intervening moments.

I'm not sure I see a qualitative difference between the two forms of composing. Has anyone noticed such a difference in his or her own writing?

Jim Murdoch said...

Christian, despite my age I've never had any great preference. Computers are tools. If they didn't cost so damn much I've have loads of different ones just the same as I have loads of different pens. Most of the pro-pen comments did come from the older generation but I was pleased to see that some younger writers enjoyed the physicality of writing. As for quality… I'm not the best person to ask because I'm quite a slow writer and I do edit as I handwrite too.

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